Wednesday, October 31, 2007

R.I.P. Robert Goulet

That's right, Robert Goulet, star of Broadway's Red Ships of Spain and the seminal album Coconut Bangers Ball: It's a Rap, has passed away at the age of 73. Now Banderas will have to do the English lyrics, too.

Join me now in saying: Goulet.

not actually Robert Goulet

actually Robert Goulet

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Have you ever seen Brainiac? No, not the Superman character, the British TV show. It's like Bill Nye the Science Guy for the twenty-something set, featuring fun experiments like walking across custard, firework racing, touching an electric fence, and blowing up a car with thermite "because it's old, because it's white, and most importantly, because it's French."

But my favorite, by far, is Alkali metals in a bathtub.

You can also subscribe to their podcast.


Check this out. Disneyland is closing the Small World ride in January because the riders are too fat. Yup, Americans are now too fat-assed for Disneyland. Small world, indeed.

Monday, October 29, 2007

New Flickr Photos

Featuring our recent trips to Lloret & Tossa, Girona, the Dalí Museum, and a 1,000 year old monastery. Enjoy!

Sir, (a + bn)/n = x, hence God exists. Reply!

It's often said that in polite society, there are two things that you never discuss - politics and religion. I've given politics enough of a go on the blog, so now it's God's turn.

Editorial comment - one side of this discussion is going to approach straw man status. However, this side often presents itself as a straw man, so this is precisely the problem. If you put up a piñata, I'm gonna take a swing.

Somehow in the YouTube-Google Reader-Friends' Blogs zeitgeist, I came across a series of articles and videos relating to religion and God's existence. They are as follows:

Richard Dawkins discussing The God Delusion at Macon Women's College and on the Beeb. (videos)
Christopher Hitchens discussing God Is Not Great at a Google Talk. (video)
"The Evangelical Crackup" in the New York Times Sunday Magazine (article)
"Should I get a tattoo??" on the St. Louis Archdiocese Youth Ministry page (article)

Dawkins and Hitchens are, for those who don't know, rather well known atheists who present their cases quite persuasively. They are articulate, both (but Dawkins in particular) use science and logic to present their arguments, and they are gracious and accommodating, within reason, when confronted with questioners who have opposing viewpoints.

Dawkins' (greatly condensed) argument goes something like this: An infinitely complex being responsible for the creation of the universe, and therefore you and me, cannot exist because the universe evolves from simple systems to complex systems, and not vice versa.

While I was watching Dawkins' MWC talk, which was infiltrated by Jerry Falwell's Liberty "University" students, I also found my way to the St. Louis Archdiocese's Youth Ministry page. One of my best friends is a seminarian at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, and he mentioned that he had a new blog entry on the youth site. (As philosophy, it's actually quite good - possibly the best writing he's done in some time.) While I was on the home page, I saw a link right below his, asking "Should I get a Tattoo??"

At first, I thought, Whoa, this is awesome. Someone on a Catholic youth page is surveying his readers to see if he should get a tattoo? That's keeping it real, especially if people say he should, and he actually DOES it.

Then I read the article. He does not want a tattoo. He does not want you to get a tattoo, either, because God says no. After stumbling through the Design Argument, in which he says that "your skin is not a canvas for painting but a barrier for protecting against infection" (which, by extension means no one can wear make-up and all piercings, even the ears, are forbidden by God himself), he moves on to a doozy.

"Have you actually been to a tattoo parlor? You will find demon-worshippers [sic] who get branded with their gods in there. . . Satan enjoys seeing people go through pain to permanently scar their skin."

Are you f*cking kidding me?! Demons? Like horns on their head demons? Exorcist demons? You shouldn't get a tattoo because you'll get pulled into a den of demon worship? Oh shit, maybe that's why my Ba'al brand still burns three years after I got it! Do people actually believe this crap? The article was wrong from about paragraph one, but this is waaay through the looking glass.

The Times article I read talked about how religion is now known for what it is against (abortion, gay marriage, etc.), rather than what it is for (love, betterment of society, etc.). Let me recap the discussion in society right now:

Reasoned, logical, atheists calmly presenting their case and engaging in honest debate vs. Demons like tattoos, God told President Bush to invade Iraq, and dinosaurs lived three thousand years ago.

I'm not saying there aren't reasonable, principled, God-fearing people. I'd just like to know where the hell they are, because the public debate is being dominated by people who are just absolutely nutters. Note to the religious establishment: you cannot advance your position if you refuse to engage in honest and open debate. "Logical argument" beats "This book is true no matter what because God says so" every time, even if the logical argument is flawed. It's like sending a cripple into a UFC fight and wondering why he keeps getting the crap kicked out of him.

I know people who go to church every week, and they're calm, rational people who don't believe this outer space nonsense. Why are they letting others speak for them, especially when it's like this? Why doesn't a rational theist approach a Dawkins or a Hitchens and say, "Here are the logical flaws in your argument and here is my counterargument for your critique."

At the same time, I know atheists who are absolute morons, and you know what the principled atheists do? They ridicule the morons, because that's what they deserve in the marketplace of ideas. It's time for theists to do the same. I'll stay out of it and play skeptic, cause I'm good at that. If you're a rational human being, and you believe in God, I'm calling you out.

And to my religious friends, I'm not saying I'm an atheist - I just had to say something.

Comment away.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

It's a Small World After All...

Well, now that I've managed to get that song in your head, I have a little story to share. First off, a little background. Most everyone who's reading this knows this, but I studied in Barcelona from January-May, 2003. Now, I am working for the same program that I studied with (the Knox College Barcelona Program). Ok, so now onto the story.
Here in Spain they have things called "intercambios". It translates to mean "exchange" and typically means that a native speaker in one language meets with a native speaker in another language to both work on the two languages. So, for example, I would meet with a native Spanish speaker (who is learning English) and we would speak in Spanish half the time and English half the time. Not only are intercambios a good way to learn a language, but they are also a good way to make friends. When I was here in 2003, I had one intercambio, but due to our busy schedules, we only met up a few times. However, my two closest friends in the Knox Program both had intercambios (and actually they had intercambios with a brother and sister) and so I would hang out with their intercambios and got to know them pretty well.
Flash forward to present day. Now, finding an intercambio is done over the internet (sort of like internet dating, except you are looking for a speaking buddy, not a date), and so I posted on this internet board that I was looking for an intercambio. I received tons of messages (mostly from 40+ year old men who I am sure wanted to exchange more than languages), but I also got some serious responses. One of the messages was from a 31 year old guy named Marc who seemed very serious about wanting to practice his English. So we e-mailed back and forth and agreed to meet up for coffee and to practice our languages. We were going to meet at the Metro stop right by my apartment, so I got there a little early. There was this totally sketchy guy hanging out, and so I ducked into a shoe store and started looking around, for fear that this sketchy dude was my intercambio. While I was looking at the shoes, I ran into one of the students on the program. We chatted for a bit and then I noticed that now another guy was waiting at the Metro stop and he looked completely normal, so I approached him and it turns out he was my intercambio. Phew, glad it wasn't the sketchy guy. At first Marc seemed very familiar to me, but I just thought it was because he sort of reminded me of this guy Marc that I knew in 2003 (who was the boyfriend of my friend's intercambio). However, the more that Marc talked, the more he seemed familiar to me. Eventually he started talking about his girlfriend and I asked what his girlfriend's name was. Turns out his girlfriend has the same name as my friend's intercambio from 2003. Then I asked him some more questions, and eventually we realized that we knew each other!!! This Marc was the same Marc I knew in 2003. We had hung out together and seen movies together. And I knew his girlfriend pretty well. WEIRD!
And seriously, what are the chances?? I somehow end up back here in Barcelona and decide to place an internet message about an intercambio. Marc somehow decides to answer my message. I somehow decide that Marc's message is a serious one, so I reply. And then we meet up. In a city of over a million people, how can it happen that I randomly met up with one of the probably 6 people I know here. SO RANDOM! And cool.
Anyways, just had to share. Isn't it so weird that the world is really kind of small??

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wandering Through Cyberspace

You ever go surfing on the internet and click on a link you think is interesting, only to read the next article, which contains another interesting link, etc., etc., until you wonder how you got to the page you're now staring at in disbelief?

It happens to me a lot.*

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The McDonald's Pizza.

As the site says, "This is a culinary Frankenstein cooked by Bizarro, a crude combination of deliciousness into an artery-jamming fatty Voltron."

*Wikipedia is by far the easiest site to do this on. I once went from Radiohead's latest album, In Rainbows, to the chemical makeup of PVC in a logical fashion (In Rainbows -> Thom Yorke -> The Eraser -> Vinyl (Album) -> PVC)

John Jordan "Buck" O'Neil

Maybe there is justice after all...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Barça Update: Double Dutch Edition

In the town/where I was born...

Okay, so I didn't update after the Barcelona game this weekend, but lest you think I only update when Barça wins, I have an excuse. This excuse is called Irish Breakfast, and the resultant food coma kept me out of blogging commission until now.

Since I have two games to relate, I'll keep them quick.

Saturday, after watching the mighty Celtic get their mighty arses handed to them by Rangers (3-0), Barcelona went out and got torpedoed 3-1 by Villareal, better known by the best nickname in all of sport - the Yellow Submarine. Best. Nickname. Ever. Unfortunately, I didn't get to watch the game. Susie and I were on an intercambio with our Ukrainian/Basque couple.

Tonight, Barça squared off against Rangers in the Champions League, with a chance to all but guarantee passage to the knockout stages with a win. Thanks to some horrendous and egregious refereeing, coupled with Rangers typically thuggish play, Barcelona managed only a 0-0 draw.

Editorial note: I've read about Rangers, I've played against them in PlayStation FIFA, but I've never experienced an honest-to-God Rangers game before this week. After two, I can say this. I hate them. I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. I hate Rangers with the fire of a thousand suns. I have never seen a team so bent on thuggery as a stratagem, or a team so quick to appeal for a card when they get breathed on wrong. They infuriate me so much, I told Susie that if DaMarcus Beasley scored against Barça, I would never cheer for him again. And I meant it. Rangers can die.

Ahem. Anyway, Barcelona could have really used those three points. All they would have needed realistically would have been one more win in three matches, two of which would be at home. But, coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Here are the standings for La Liga after this weekend's matches, with Champions League standings following tonight's matches.

La Liga Standings (Jornada 8)
1) Real Madrid / 6-1-1 / 19 points / +12
2) Villareal / 6-2-0 / 18 points / +5
3) Valencia / 6-2-2 / 18 points / +3
4) Barcelona / 5-1-2 / 17 points / +10
5) Espanyol / 5-2-1 / 16 points / +3

Champions League Group E
1) Barcelona / 2-0-1 / 7 points / +5
2) Rangers / 2-0-1 / 7 points / +4
3) Lyon / 1-0-2 / 3 points / -4
4) Stuttgart / 0-0-3 / 0 points / -7

Pelé Sez: It's getting crowded at the top. Nearly a quarter of the way through the season, you usually start to see some separation in the standings. But after this weekend, the top five are separated by only three points. Real Madrid finally dropped a game, but Barcelona again kept pace by losing. The beneficiaries, Villareal (now in second) and Espanyol (now fifth) are going to make this an interesting contest. The next big contests for Barça will be the Rangers rematch on November 7th (Champions League) and at Espanyol on December 2nd (La Liga). Espanyol/Barcelona is typically a charged affair, and it will be even more meaningful if Espanyol can hang around the top of the table for the next month. Could we see two Barcelona-based teams in next year's Champions League? We'll see! Love! Love! Love!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Old Firm

You'll Never Walk Alone

I've mentioned the Old Firm in passing on the blog, but it bears an explanation, since tomorrow features the first Old Firm clash of the season.

The Simple Explanation
Old Firm, along with Barça/Real Madrid, are quite simply the biggest, most important rivalries in sport. Period.

A Bit More
Imagine the biggest American sports rivalry you can. Cubs/Cardinals doesn't count, because it's a polite, sporting rivalry. I would buy a Cubs fan a beer after a game, and I know Cubs fans would do the same for me. The rivalry lacks vitriol. Try Yankees/Red Sox, the Red River Shootout, or Carolina/Duke. Now, add some political and religious strife.

Celtic F.C. (pronounced sel'-tik) and Rangers F.C. are more than the two most decorated Scottish football clubs. Rangers holds a slight lead in head to head matchups (149-135 with 92 draws), as well as more league championships (51-41), but Celtic has more Scottish Cups (34-31), and are the only Scottish team to win the European Championship. Because Glasgow (home to both teams) is home to a very large Irish immigrant population, Celtic and Rangers have become talismans for Irishmen of all stripes, mostly due to the circumstances surrounding Celtic's founding.

When the Irish made their way to Glasgow following decades of English oppression and the Great Hunger, they were almost universally poor and almost universally Catholic. Many found their way to soup kitchens, where they received nourishment with a side of proselytizing, since the soup kitchens were run by native Anglicans. Catholic ministers were worried that the flock was giving up Catholicism out of necessity, as protestantism meant food on the table. Furthering their concerns, there were no activities for Catholic children that didn't involve the Anglican Church.

So, Brother Walfrid, a Marist, simultaneously founded The Poor Children's Dinner Table, a Catholic soup kitchen, and Celtic F.C., both as an activity for Catholic youth to participate in and a method of funding the charity. In 1888, playing their first ever match, Celtic defeated Rangers 5-2 in what was called a "friendly encounter." The friendliness, unfortunately, wouldn't last.

By the time of the First World War, Ireland was fighting for independence from the United Kingdom, and Irish nationalism was at an all-time high. Ireland had no major football league to speak of, so Celtic received an influx of support from Catholic Republicans across the Emerald Isle. Catholics saw Celtic as a way to express themselves, much the same way as Barcelonans used Barça to express their Catalan nationalism. Rangers, for reasons unknown (though likely due to their proximity to Celtic) received the support of Protestant Loyalists, and it's never been the same.

The rivalry is not only hotly contested in Glasgow, but also in Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland, with tens of thousands making their way to Scotland for games via ferry and plane. For decades, Celtic did not sign protestants and Rangers did not sign Catholics. A Jesuit priest once did an analysis of refereeing decisions, attempting to prove that the Scottish (read: protestant) referees were biased against Celtic. Mo Johnston, a Catholic who had played several seasons for Celtic, was accused of abandoning his heritage (and worse) for signing to play with Rangers. A Rangers director once came under heavy criticism for publicly stating that the Pope was a man of perdition. The games are physical on the pitch and occasionally in the stands.

Even the symbolism of their crests and uniforms reference the Catholic Republican/Protestant Loyalist tension. Celtic's crest is a shamrock, a symbol of Irish nationalism and St. Patrick. The green of Celtic's hoops is a Republican color. Meanwhile, the lion on Rangers' crest is a symbol of England, the red, white, and blue match the Union Jack, and blue is a traditional protestant color.

While the rivalry is fierce and enjoyable, both sides have made great strides to reign in the outright sectarianism, to their credit. But, as Mother Jones says, "economic globalization basically swept away discrimination against Catholics, but many of the city's Protestants never got a chance to adapt emotionally to the change." On the flip side, Catholics still feel discriminated against, even though this may no longer be the case.

So, words will be exchanged tomorrow, tempers will flare, and players will leave it all on the pitch. 90% of Ibrox will be blue tomorrow, but the slice in green, white, and orange will make themselves known. And while you might hear strains of "If you hate the f*ckin Feinians, clap your hands" from those in blue, I'll be singing "You Never Walk Alone." After all, it's a grand old team to play for.

P.S. If you want even more, read chapter two of Franklin Foer's How Soccer Explains the World: An (Unlikely) Theory of Globalization.

Big Football Weekend

The European kind, that is.

Last weekend, there was no real, meaningful soccer, thanks to Euro 2008 qualifiers. Sure, South America began World Cup qualifying, but that goes through 2009, so it's not like last weekend's results were cause for nail-biting. But this weekend is HUGE. Like, three leagues of huge, kicking off more hugeness for the next week or so. As a result, here's what I'll be doing this weekend:

1:30 PM Saturday - Celtic @ Rangers, the first Old Firm clash of the season, which I'll be watching at the Celtic Cross, an honest-to-God Celtic bar (its website has the Celtic hoops as the background and the menu features "Parkhead Pic a Pic", "The Hoops Full Irish Breakfast", and "Lisbon Lions Just Deserts"). The list of live sporting events even says "Them vs. The Mighty CELTIC". Susie will have to keep her DaMarcus Beasley love at a low volume.
Saturday Night - Keeping Abreast of MLS Results, which won't be my main focus, but will have a big impact on Sunday.
8:00 PM Sunday - Barça @ Villareal, featuring the return of Liga action and my two favorite Liga teams. At the same time I'm enjoying the atmosphere at Stuzzichini, I'll be following another game online.
9:00 PM Sunday - Chicago Fire vs. L.A. Galaxy, most likely for all the playoff marbles. David Beckham & Landoon Donovan vs. The BlanChopFle. Remember those Saturday MLS results? There are several permutations, depending on how Saturday plays out, but the short of it is win and you're in. It's Beckham vs. Blanco. Style vs. Substance. Flash vs. Brute Strength. The Golden Boy vs. The Hunchback. The highest profile signing in American sports history vs. a no-nonsense gamechanger. I honestly don't know if I've ever been more disappointed to miss a game, and I'll only say this - IF YOU ARE IN THE CITY OF CHICAGO, GO TO THIS GAME! You'll have to scalp tickets, but I promise it will be worth it.

My predictions?
Celtic 2-1 Rangers. Heated match, but cooler heads prevail. Celtic is healthier following the Euro matches, and Artur Boruc is just sick in goal. Playing at Ibrox won't be enough for Gers.
Barça 2-0 Villareal. The Barcelona attack is just that good.
Fire 2-1 Galaxy. Blanco scores the winner and gets into it with either Becks, Donovan, or Abel Xavier. Cooler heads do not prevail, and both sides finish with 10 men.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

From the Depths of the Interweb!

Some pretty interesting stuff came from the depths of the interweb today. More interesting than anything that happened to me in the past 24 hours, so here you go:

Savage Love - I'm not reproducing it out of respect for taste (read: Susie's really grossed out), but totally worth a read this week for the Southern Reverend story.

In more serious news, it seems that David Pogue, the tech guru at the Paper of Record doesn't know everything. He's compiled a list of things he doesn't know on his blog. Among the highlights:

* What happens to software programs when their publishers go out of business?
* Who are the morons who respond to junk-mail offers, thereby keeping spammers in business?
* How come there are still no viruses for Mac OS X? If it has 6 percent of the market, shouldn’t it have 6 percent of the viruses?
* Why don’t all hotels have check-in kiosks like airlines do?
* Why aren’t there recycling bins for bottles and cans where they’re most obviously needed, like food courts and cafeterias?

But don't fear, faithful blogreaders. I have several substantive ideas in my head for some posts, including watching the Old Firm game (part the first) at The Celtic Cross on Saturday, thoughts on Richard Dawkins and a blog post I read at the St. Louis Archdiocese Youth Website (I was there to check out the musings of a good friend), and more.* Also, I'm going to try and get a Google Reader feed on the blog for some shared items, removing the excuse, "I'll just post a funny link and that counts."

* Unlike the Times, I am absolutely, unequivocally, and totally in favor of the serial comma. Without it, how would you explain the following sentence: I like steak, bacon and ham and eggs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Knox Is On Wikipedia's Splash Page!

Today's Featured Article: Truthiness

Truthiness means Presidential Candidate Stephen Colbert

And Stephen Colbert's picture on Wikipedia was taken at... Knox College.
Truthiness, meet breaded mushrooms.

You can see the Gizmo in the background. I can almost smell the chicken strips.

Also, note that yesterday's featured article was Donkey Kong.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pickle Victory, Secrete Success, and Score With Hot Babes

If you like Harry Potter, you'll love this - The Potter Puppet Pals (from the same guy that brought us Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny - hi res here)

Also, check out The Potter Puppet Pals in Snape's potions class.

"I can teach you to pickle victory, secrete success, and even score with hot babes!"
-Severus Snape

Oh, The Humanity!

A team of experts examines the ruins of my Fantasy Football season.

What's the difference between the Wright Tackles and the St. Louis Rams? I at least have one win, while the Rams continue working towards that 0-16 mark. Unfortunately, that's little consolation, as the everything happened that needed to in order to transform my Fantasy Football season into the season from hell.

1) I lost. Again.
2) The 10th place team won, passing me on points scored.
3) Susie won, keeping her in 1st place amongst the Powder Puffers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for Susie. But I have to look at this while she cheerily gives me unsolicited Fantasy advice. Which I have taken. I am now officially accepting advice on fake sports from my wife. But hey, when your league looks like this, what would you do?


The quarterback carousel continues. Vianney's own Trent Green and Chad Pennington are gone, replaced by Brian Griese and Jay Cutler (both Susie suggestions). Other than that, the suckitude continues on a massive scale.

But there's hope for the future. Marc Bulger returns this week, I'm actually somehow favored to win, and I'm technically not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. I'm just eliminated in that Tampa Bay Devil Rays in June sort of way. Here's hoping for the future.

Post Script: It seems the reason I'm favored by 15 has something to do with my opponent not yet subbing for the three players he has who have bye weeks this Sunday. I'm sure that by kickoff, I'll once again be the dog.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Other People's Words

I've been trying to avoid blog postings that are just Snappy Link To Exciting Article, but this is just something that I have to throw out there. I was reading my Google Reader* this morning, when I cam across a Salon article (by Bill Maher, no less) about the Barack-Obama-Pin-Thingy.

For those who haven't heard, Senator Obama doesn't wear an American Flag lapel pin on his suit coat, because he feels that in many cases, the pin is a substitute for real patriotism. The right (and to a lesser extent his Democratic rivals) responded with vitriol usually reserved for 12 year olds with brain injuries. So, Salon fought back.

Among the highlights:

"...people need to remember that lapels aren't for wearing pins to create the illusion that you're supporting the troops. They're for wearing ribbons to create the illusion that you're helping cure a disease."

" Last week we had the first genuine controversy of the presidential campaign: the shocking news that Barack Obama doesn't wear an American flag lapel pin, so apparently he and America are no longer going steady."

"...we do flag pins and bumper stickers. And not even bumper stickers. Bumper magnets. Because stickers are tough to get off, and we may change our mind about never forgetting."

I could just keep quoting, but you should really just go read the article.

BRAVO, BARACK OBAMA!: American Flag Pins Are For Idiots
-by Bill Maher, from Salon

*By the way, has anyone else found the experience of waking up in the morning and going through their RSS aggregator exciting in the way that other people find reading the morning paper enjoyable? It's like a newspaper, but I'm the editor-in-chief!

Friday, October 12, 2007


Jake: Do you know why Alfred Nobel funded the Peace Prize?
Susie: No (in that Jake, I don't care so tell me and then shut up voice)
Jake: He wanted to be remembered as something other than the inventor of dynamite.
Susie: Oh. Is he still alive?
Jake No, he died in the 1800's.
Susie: I wish I hadn't asked that.

Congrats, Al

Jason Kottke may think you won the Nobel for "what is essentially a Power Point presentation," but I say you rule!

P.S. If you run for president, I'd vote for you, in case you're reading this.
P.P.S. Alfred Nobel, I know you invented dynamite, but this prize is DY-NO-MITE!

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Oh God. God, I'm sore. My legs ache with a deep burning fire, and I'm dehydrated after drinking several glasses of water. I played futsal last night after a three month layoff and got run ragged by some continental-types who were much fitter than I am.

Granted, the last time they played was Tuesday.

As most of you might know, I'm notoriously bad with names (I think I know the names of 75% of Susie's program kids after a month). So, after politely introducing myself to everyone last night, I promptly forgot everyone's name, forcing my internal monologue to come up with names for them. As a result, I played futsal last night with Irish (cause he's Irish), Fulham (wearing Fulham F.C. shorts), and Ronnie (Ronaldinho jersey), all of whom could have ran circles around me. To my credit, though, I played a full 90 for the first time, breaking only when the ball left the fenced-off court.

I also played against Susie for the first time, and for several minutes, we were matched up against one another. My internal monologue was out of control at that point:

I'm going to score on you.
Wait. It's Susie.
She's on the other team.
Yeah, but she's your wife.
But it would be cool.
But she's better than you.
Then I have to try.

Well, I didn't score on Susie. In fact, I didn't score - I sent a header, my best chance, wide by a foot. But I did have two assists, and my team won 10-9. My time in goal also reaffirmed that I belong between the pipes in a futsal match. People were using it as a breather during the game, but I just feel more at home there.

Now if I can just get my fitness level up.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Long time, no blog

Well, it's about time I posted again, eh? Funny thing is this blog was my idea and I was worried that it would only be me posting and Jake wouldn't post at all. And now Jake gives me crap about my lack of posting. My how the tables have turned.

And it's not like I haven't been busy or anything. I had a weekend trip to Chicago, which was exhilarating and exhausting. I had a birthday. I had a weekend trip with the program to two beuatiful towns, Lloret de Mar and Tossa. And in the meantime, I've been working and trying to live it up here in Barcelona.

Fall certainly isn't the same here as it is in the States. The weather is similar: warm days, cool nights, and the occasional rain. But the thing I miss the most is the crunching of leaves under my feet. And the smell of fall. But the fact that I can take a swim in the Medeterranean Sea in October and not be freezing kind of makes up for the lack of Fall.

My Fantasy Football Team Sucks

After a quasi-respectable fourth place showing in Rich's fantasy baseball league, I joined one of those random Yahoo! fantasy football leagues, since I didn't get enough interest in my league (boo). I usually do okay in fantasy football, finishing in the middle of the pack, but this year is different. Just not in the way I expected.

If you went into your season with Marc Bulger, Reggie Bush, Travis Henry, Calvin Johnson, and the Baltimore defense in your starting lineup with Marion "Lil Tiki" Barber and the Sex Cannon on your bench, you'd feel pretty good, right? Well let's see how that's worked out for us, so far:

Yup, that's right. Ninth. If the season ended today, I wouldn't even make the consolation playoffs. See, making the playoffs in a Yahoo! league is sort of like making the playoffs in the old NHL. Actually, think Original Six NHL. You have to try to not make the playoffs, and my guys are doing a pretty good job trying to not succeed. I give them an A for effort. What's going wrong?

Marc Bulger - Fractured Ribs/Lack of Offensive Line
Reggie Bush - Sophomore Slump/Plays for Crappy Team
Travis Henry - Looming Drug Suspension
Baltimore Defense - Old/Ineffective
Sex Cannon - Benched

I dropped the Sex Cannon. How sad is that? Sexy Rexy doesn't even merit a spot on my bench, replaced by Chad Pennington and Trent Green (who suffered a career threatening grade three concussion after I picked him up). I dropped Rex Grossman for a Vianney alum. Pitiful.

And to add insult to injury, Susie's in first place in her Powderpuff Fantasy League.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Pelé Sez: If Baseball Had Relegation

Hey kids, it's time for a special edition of Pelé Sez. I was going to wait until Barcelona played a team facing relegation, but it would just take so long to explain the awesomeness of relegation that I didn't want to add too much to the regular updates. So what is relegation, and why is it awesome? Let's take a look.

Most people know about the major soccer leagues in Europe - the Premiership, Serie A, Ligue 1, La Liga, etc. What a lot of casual fans don't know is that each country has several "minor" leagues, sort of like Minor League Baseball, with one big difference. The teams in the "minor" leagues aren't owned by the "major" league teams. The Cardinals have Memphis, Springfield, Quad Cities, etc. as part of their franchises. But Barcelona, Real Madrid, Celta Vigo, etc. aren't franchises; they're clubs - and that's a crucial difference.

Did you ever wish that the Royals didn't stink up Major League Baseball season after season, or want the Expos/Nationals to actually do something? Did you want to see the Marlins penalized each time they blew up their roster following a World Series? Relegation would solve that problem.

See, in most soccer leagues, the teams at the bottom have as much to play for as the teams at the top, because the bottom couple teams (how many depends on the league, but usually about three) get booted from the league at the end of each season and find themselves in the lower division. They get replaced by the highest finishers in the lower league.

For example, last year in La Liga, Celta Vigo, Real Sociadad, and Gimnastic Tarragona finished last. This year, they're in the Segunda, replaced in La Liga by Murcia, Valladolid, and Almeria.

This forces teams to try harder at the end of the season instead of playing out the string, and gets consistently bad teams out of the top leagues. To continue the baseball analogy, in 2006, the Royals, Cubs, and Devil Rays had the three worst records in baseball. To start the 2007 season, they would have found themselves in Triple A, with Triple A teams taking their place.

Now, you're saying that Triple A has two fully independent leagues to MLB's ultimately singular structure. This is a problem faced further down in the soccer leagues. Parallel leagues have a cross league playoff to find out who gets promoted, so Pacific Coast League and International League teams could face off in a tournament to see who gets to play in the Major Leagues the following season.

But wait, it gets better. This year, the Devil Rays (66 wins), Pirates (68 wins), Royals, and Orioles (69 wins each) had the three worst records in Major League Baseball. The Royals and Orioles are tied for the last relegation spot. Imagine a playoff series, best of three, to see who doesn't get kicked out of the league. Imagine an anti-pennant race to see who gets to stick around. Imagine the Atlanta Braves opening their season against the newly-promoted Sacramento River Cats. Imagine the Royals paying a price for decades of ineptitude, rather than collecting a fat luxury tax check.

If all of baseball were clubs, rather than franchises, it would be possible for the Quad City Swing to have some great seasons and find themselves in the Major Leagues, rather than Class A. Kansas City could be playing in Double A before they knew what was going on.

Since 1992 the English Premiership has had 40 teams as a part of the league at one point or another. 40 teams! That's twice the size of the league! The best league plays the best ball. If you stink, you go to another league. The beauty of relegation. But it will never happen in baseball, because they're franchises, not clubs.

Oh, and in case you're curious, the teams that would be relegated in Major League Baseball since 2000 would be: Arizona (04), Baltimore (01, 07), Chicago Cubs (00, 06), Colorado (05), Detroit (02, 03), Kansas City (04, 05, 06, 07), Milwaukee (02), Montreal (00), Philadelphia (00), Pittsburgh (01, 05, 07), Seattle (04), San Diego (03), and Tampa Bay (01, 02, 03, 05, 06, 07). Notice a pattern? Of the thirteen teams on the list, eight are "relegated" multiple times.

Imagine what some new blood might have done. Sure, they might get sent right back down. In soccer, one or two freshly promoted teams in each league get sent back most years, but they usually get replaced by teams other than the just relegated ones. Fresh blood can be good for a league. Love! Love! Love!

Culture Points Acquired in Spain

So imagine that you've moved to a new country with a totally different culture. Pretty cool, right? Well now that you're there, what sort of cultural experiences would you like to have? See the sights? Take in a foreign film? See a concert? Sample the local cuisine?

Well, with the exception of the local cuisine (and maybe some of the sights), yours truly has been a Big, Fat American since arrival. Didn't really realize it until today, though. Sure, I've been to the Parc Güell, Lloret de Mar, and Tossa de Mar. I'm eating like a Spaniard, right down to dinner at 10:00 p.m. (and my body has thanked me by dropping a couple). But here's a quick rundown of things I've seen/read for the first time since arriving:

The Bourne Supremacy
Clear and Present Danger
Patriot Games
The French Connection
Grey's Anatomy
Season Four
Knocked Up
The Assault on Reason

At least Dubliners, which now resides on my nightstand, is Irish. My literary musings have finally crossed the pond. Susie found me an English language bookstore that is both awesome and terrifying. Awesome because in my first real visit secured two excellent books, the aforementioned Patriot Games and Dubliners, and terrifying in that I can see my book habit getting bad. But I need some Spanish culture, here. Maybe next up should be Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon, which is available at the Knox office at the University. Other suggestions for some English language Spanish culture like reading?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Barça Update: Perfect Afternoon

You know that feeling you get around the beginning of October, when the windows are open, the game is on, your team is winning comfortably, and life is good? That was the scene at the Italian Bar on Sunday for the Barça game. We showed up just as the Juventus-Fiorentina Serie A match was winding down (did I mention it's an Italian Bar, complete with mosaic Juventus crest in the floor by the bar?), ready to bolt to our alternate viewing place if the Italian football continued on the TV. Fortunately, as soon as the final whistle blew on the 1-1 draw, Sky Sports switched to Canal+ and life was good for everyone except the bartender.*

Despite unusually poor form, Barcelona found themselves up 2-0 inside of half an hour, which more often than not results in cruising to victory and enjoying the game for its own sake. As an added bonus the bar, Stuzzichini, has no glass in the windows and the wooden shutters were wide open, letting air and sunshine into the bar. Barça games typically start anywhere from 9:30 to 10:00 at night, but this one kicked off at 5:00. All that was missing was the rustle of falling leaves and the sound of steaks on the grill, but you'll hear no complaints from me.

Well, Ruud Van Nistelroy popped one in the net for Real Madrid in the 71st minute, keeping Barça out of first place for another week, but a good chase is hardly a complaint. I'd just prefer if Real were trying to keep pace with us. Next up, it's off to the Submarine for another 5:00 start. They should consider making a habit of this. Oh, and here are the standings:

La Liga - Jornada 7

1) Real Madrid / 6-0-1 / 19 points / +13
2) Barcelona / 5-0-2 / 17 points / +12
3) Villareal / 5-2-0 / 15 points / +3
4) Valencia / 5-2-0 / 15 points / +1
5) Espanyol / 4-2-1 / 13 points / +2

*Juve lost the lead on a late penalty that was this close to being saved. The bartender muttered something along the lines of forgetting that this day had ever happened as he delivered our pizzas.

Pelé Sez: After seven matches in La Liga, we're finally starting to see some space in the standings. Only Barcelona and Real Madrid remain undefeated. Horrendous Levante have sacked their coach, the first Liga team to do so this year. One point from seven matches will do that. We have a newcomer to the top five, Barcelona's other team, RCD Espanyol, thanks to the continuing Sevilla tank job. Sevilla now find themselves in fifteenth place, only one point clear of relegation, after being in second only two weeks ago. What is relegation? Tune in for a special Pelé Sez for an in depth discussion of the best idea in sports not found in America. As far as the upcoming schedule, Barça have no breaks, with third place Villareal followed by a Champions League clash with Rangers (at Ibrox, coming off an Old Firm game, no less). If Barcelona can come away with points in both matches, they will establish themselves a side to be reckoned with at home and throughout Europe, as well. Love! Love! Love!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Barça and the Supreme Court

I just tried to relay some good injury news regarding Barcelona to Susie. Namely, that Puyol and Milito trained with the team today and look fit to start against Atlético this weekend. Her response?

"But Alito's on the Supreme Court."

Yup, he sure is.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I Can't Sleep

Sorry for the lack of posts in the last couple days (though some of you may have been thinking something along the lines of, Thank God). It's almost 3:00 AM here in Barcelona, and I can't sleep. This is the second time this has happened this week, and the first time kept me up almost until 5:00. Needless to say, I hope that doesn't happen again.

For those that don't know, our piso is at a fairly major intersection as far as Gracia goes. To make things more interesting, the plaça you see in the map is undergoing very major construction at the moment. They're tearing up the streets, putting most of them underground, and adding a new metro line that will be the longest in Europe. As such, the difference between sounds at night and sounds during the day makes for a pretty stark contrast. During the day there is heavy machinery, sirens, traffic, and people going about their daily lives. Right now, all I can hear is the occasional vehicle moving down Travessera de Dalt and the church bells as they toll the hours. No music (I don't want to wake Susie, who's sleeping right next to me), just the peace of night.

I love the night. Night is when all things are possible, when you can be alone with your thoughts, free to examine reality as you see it. I don't think I've ever had a deep conversation that I've recalled years and years later or an insight so profound that it shaped my core beliefs that didn't come at night. Who I am and what I believe are shaped by my thoughts drifting through the darkness of night, lying in bed rummaging around in my head or sitting at my desk at Knox, wrestling with a paper. That's what I miss about Knox more than anything. Sure, I miss the people and the experiences. I miss choir and Sigma Nu. I miss sitting on the Gizmo patio in the fall with hot chocolate. But what I miss more than anything is sitting in my room, at my desk, wrestling with topics that meant more to me than the three or five or ten pages I was asked to contribute. Is morality objective? Does life have meaning? Does it matter? Is there a god? These were questions for the night; questions that sent me down to the Pepsi machine long after the rest of the house had gone to bed. That was the experience that made me see the value of higher education.

I still have questions for the night, but I feel like I don't know how to ask anymore. I want to probe the depths of what the night has to offer, but how? Have I lost touch with what made inquiry so rewarding? I have to ask, yes, but my asking feels incomplete if I don't know how to formulate an answer.

For example, every few months, I find myself having what I've come to term as "the existential crisis", which forces me lie awake and ask, "Is this all there is?" Not in the sense that I'm unhappy with what I have or where I'm going, but in the sense that Shakespeare wrote about when Hamlet said, "To die, to sleep;/No more." What if we die and that's it? Did our life have meaning? Does it continue to have meaning in any real sense? What evidence do we use to point us towards a meaningful answer? Is this all a cruel cosmic joke? This reared its head a couple weeks after we got here and has given me pause because, for the first time, I feel like I'm getting somewhere with the question. It's not even something that people have never considered - I'm hardly Wittgenstein writing the Tractalus here. But I have to ask and I have to know because, to my mind, no other question can be answered in toto until this is put to rest. Yes, we can (and I do) formulate good enough working theses on life that keeps me from living as a recluse until the question is solved, but I need to know, and night is the time that lets me ponder and probe the depths seeking the truth.

I don't know if I know the answer. I don't know if we can know the answer. All I know is I love the night for what it gives: a chance to seek the truth.

P.S. It is now quarter to four.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Barça Update: Valdes to the Rescue

Has anyone seen my cape?

Back to the Champions League, friends. For those unfamiliar, Barça find themselves in the group stage of this year's Champions League, specifically Group E, along with defending French champions Olympique Lyon, defending German champs VfB Stuttgart, and Scottish runners-up Rangers. Tonight's game, after Barcelona laid the smack down on Lyon at Lyon and Rangers bested Stuttgart in Glasgow, was a critical match in shaping the group dynamic. A win would place Barça solidly atop the table with four games left to play, while a loss would leave them in the middle of the group with Stuttgart (and potentially in a four way tie, depending on the outcome of the Rangers/Lyon game). So, off to Germany!

Stuttgart knew the importance of tonight's game and came to play. Not only did they come to play, they came to play rough. Part of what makes European soccer interesting to watch is the fact that most countries have very distinct playing styles, and you get to see those competing styles face each other. Germany is known for their precision and their defense, sort of what you'd expect from the land of on-time trains and BMWs. But they're also known for getting a little physical, which throws a wrench in Barcelona's finesse play. It's a standard tactic, though. When you're outclassed, outmuscle. Messi can't do his fancy dance moves if he's rolling on the pitch. You'll note that the standings don't give style points.

This tactic gave Stuttgart a good chunk of the game (about the middle half of the match) to try and steal a goal and put pressure on an increasingly frustrated Barça, and it almost worked until Puyol poked one home in the second half. Good think Victor Valdes is a freaking brick wall. Stuttgart put full pressure on an injured Barcelona back line and forced Valdes to make two saves in the span of five or six seconds. Twice. He was the Man of the Match before the first half was over. Think about that for a minute. He was so good in the first half that it didn't matter what anyone did for the final 45 minutes - Valdes was already the best player in the game. What if Messi scores a hat trick? Or Ronaldinho beats seven men en route to a goal? Doesn't matter. Valdes was that good. In the end, he took what could have easily been a 0-2 defeat and turned it into a 2-0 win, putting Barça in excellent position for the remainder of the group stage. Up next is Rangers at Ibrox on the 23rd, the only team I'll be giving a preview of in the group stage, for good reason. But for now, the standings.

Group E Standings:

1) Barcelona / 2-0-0 / 6 points / +5
2) Rangers / 2-0-0 / 6 points / +4
3) Stuttgart / 0-2-0 / 0 points / -3
4) Lyon / 0-2-0 / 0 points / -6

Pelé Sez: Barça's win tonight is a big deal. Remember, they only need to finish in Group E's top half to advance to the knock-out rounds. If they win their next game against Rangers, they would need to lose out and have either Lyon or Stuttgart all but win out to be eliminated, something that seems pretty unlikely. Had they lost or drawn tonight, the entire group would still be wide open. An excellent comparison is Group G, which looks like this:

Fenerbahce / 1-0-1 / 4 points / +1
Inter Milan / 1-1-0 / 3 points / +1
PSV Eindhoven / 1-1-0 / 3 points / -1
CSKA Moscow / 0-1-1 / 1 point / -1

A third of the way through group play and the only team in even marginally in trouble is Moscow. Meanwhile, in Barcelona's group (standings above), there is now hardcore pressure for Lyon and Stuttgart to win, or else their Champions League campaign is basically over. Not only that, but after Barça's game at Rangers, they will have gotten all of their road matches under their belts and play the last half of the group stage at home, which is huge. In a six game mini-league, three points are always big, but especially when you have a chance to blow the group wide open. After tonight, I say Barça will move on, and I'm Pelé, so you should listen to me. Love! Love! Love!

I Love Legal Opinions

A federal court struck down one of Bush's executive orders today. The judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, decided that the order, which blocks some presidential papers from public viewing indefinitely, turns out to be unconstitutional. But I love the way Judge Kollar-Kotelly says it:

The executive order is "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law."

Aw, snap.
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